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And a very merry

It’s merely the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and we are, incomprehensibly, done: presents are wrapped, cornbread is baked in preparation for tomorrow’s oyster dressing, gifts have been shipped and (nick-of-time) received, charity undertaken. I can’t believe there’s time for the luxury to write, to cut out more cookies with small floured hands, to lay with little girls beneath the fragrant spruce and count colored lights until their lashes flutter in torpor.

It’s the beauty of growing children: that they become easier, and that you grow better at it — at parenting them, at the whole cyclonic chaos of holidays and traditions. We’re a young family; within the week, Michael and I will have our 7-year anniversary, and Eliot will turn 6, so it’s nice to still be at a place of building holiday traditions, while also having a few annual musts.

For instance, this was the image on the holiday card we sent out this year:


After sailing last year, Michael and I decided Argosy Cruises‘ annual Christmas Ship was going to be a yearly GOTTA. The kids spend the entire evening absorbed in organized activities, the cocktails and choruses are swingin’, and just look at that Santa! All while sailing on a ship around Puget Sound, and stopping at various ports to let the singers onboard blast holiday carols to crowds ashore, who then SHOOT A FIREWORKS SHOW IN THANKS, IT IS RIDICULOUS HOLIDAY AWESOME. This year’s musical talent was the Dickens Carolers, who were lovely:

Another yearly trip is just up the road to Swanson’s Nursery for their holiday display. There’s an amazing model train setup and loads of trees and decorations and even a camel and miniature donkey (Curly and Moe), but the real draw is the two reindeer that come from a nearby farm: Dasher and Blitzen.

On Thanksgiving weekend for a few hours, they have a handler available who’ll put your kids in a little sleigh and let you get a picture with Dasher, but overwhelmingly, for the entire month, if you want your kids to get anywhere close to the cherished reindeer, they’re gonna be a good six yards away on the other side of their pen, eating or sleeping or generally ignoring everyone, and this is about the best shot you’ll get:

This year, I decided to shake things up a little. The girls and I showed up on a quiet Wednesday afternoon. It was just us and a few other parents with young kids, and Dasher and Blitzen were on the far wall with their broad backs to everyone. Deadsville.

So I unzipped my pack and pulled out a Ziploc of FUN.

I’d just brought it for the girls; Nola’s preschool class had taken a tour a week or so before, and the guide had given every child an apple slice to feed Blitzen, so I thought it’d be fun to come back and give Eliot the chance and also try to snap a few photos. But as soon as Eliot slipped the first apple wedge through the fence, both reindeer raced over. In moments, a girl beside us (a developmentally disabled teenager) began gleefully stroking Dasher’s face and cheeks, so I offered her some apple slices, and then I immediately took in every little face and began passing the bag to everyone. What a minute before had been a group of parents and kids staring half-heartedly at two apathetic animals was now giggling and laughter and little hands caressing feathery antlers and parents excitedly shooting pictures and video — four solid minutes of unanticipated holiday joy.

And as the last apple wedge slipped into Blitzen’s teeth, The Man came and shut us down, a testy-looking guy in a Swanson’s shirt snapping that “We feed them enough already!” before storming away. I looked around a little sheepishly… and as soon as he was out of earshot, everyone laughed and offered up some version of “Perfect timing!” and “Got away with it!”

(When I recounted it to Michael later, I said, “Seriously, what a dick! I brought in one organic Braeburn, FFS. You’d’ve thought we were tossing over sacks of Quarter Pounders.”

“What?” he said. “I’m busy reading this headline on the Seattle Times site, ‘Reindeer Collapses at Swanson’s Nursery.'”)

Resolved for 2012: breaking more rules in the name of bringing people joy. It’s so easy, and so much fun.

Merry Christmas to you tonight, Happy Hanukkah, Sweet Solstice, a warm wish for the holiday of your observance. In the words of Robert Ingersoll, the 19th-century writer and orator, “Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.”

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